OPINION: For displaced 5C students, learning how to cope with coronavirus is more important than ever

A drawing of a laptop sitting on a desk. The screen is open, showing a video call with a person with brown skin and long black hair. There is a container of pens and pencils next to the laptop.
(Natalie Bauer • The Student Life)

On March 11, I was getting dinner with family when I read the alert that the 5Cs were closing. I immediately thought, “Whaaat?!?” As a psychotherapist whose clientele are mostly 5C students, my thoughts immediately went to the impact this would have on my clients and our work.

Now that it has been about four weeks since that initial jolt, a lot has changed. My clients have returned home, I have powered up my ring light and our work has continued via telehealth. I have made a key observation about the impact this has had on their mental health and noticed certain coping strategies that have helped them deal with these extraordinary circumstances. 

It is now more important than ever that students know specific strategies to help them weather this storm.

After all, we are all going through the six stages of grief. Whether you have lost a loved one to COVID-19, lost your job or lost the sense of normalcy in your everyday life, we are all dealing with grief.

These stages have been seen when we heard others say, “This is being blown way out of proportion. It will all settle down soon … ” (denial), in the increased arguments 5C students are having at home with their parents (anger), our attempts to bend the rules by going out with friends: “But I won’t touch them or anything” (bargaining) and feeling lonely or missing our daily get-togethers with friends (sadness).

5C students are not only having to grieve what was, but also having to let go of what could have been: that upcoming track meet, graduation plans and the bucket list you had #goals to complete this semester. 

The stages are fluid and we tend to jump up-down-and-all-around between the initial four on our way towards acceptance and meaning, the latter two stages of grief. The kicker is we cannot really get to acceptance since this whole situation is still unfolding.

However, we can work on accepting things as they are now, so that we can come out of this experience feeling more grounded. 

If students are unable to work through their grief, some of the consequences include an increase in anxiety and depression, more arguments and bickering at home and withdrawal from school and friends (even online). 

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Check yourself before you wreck yourself. We should all strive to productively cope with coronavirus so that once the dust has settled, we will be able to understand the significance of all this: isolation versus solitude, socially distanced versus spiritually connected, finger-pointing versus reflecting.

Here are six coping strategies that can be adopted:

1) Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. This will trigger your parasympathetic nervous system (the one that helps you relax) and will communicate to your muscles and organs that “everything is going to be okay.”

2) Create a routine. You had one before and you can make one now. Classes are still running, so maintain a class schedule, set bedtime and morning routines, make time to exercise and select meal times. You can find workouts on YouTube and explore yoga, Zumba, HIIT, etc. Nelson Mandela maintained his shape even when he was imprisoned in an 8×7 foot cell! #BeLikeNelsonMandela. 

3) Set boundaries. If your family is driving you nuts, create a boundary. Tell them, “I’ll be in class all morning so please don’t knock if my door is closed.” If your phone is blowing up, set a timer for 30-60 minutes and tuck it away in order to focus on homework. Also, if you find yourself in close quarters, the bathroom is ideal for escape. You can pretend you’re taking a long #2 or turn the shower on and give yourself some time to re-center. 

4) Connect with your friends! Call them, FaceTime, set up a Zoom call or start a Houseparty. This will trick your brain into thinking you are getting the social connection it craves and release all the positive endorphins we get when we interact with friends. You can also vent about feeling like you are in high school again.

5) Grieve. Write a eulogy, light a candle, say a little prayer to “let go” of whatever it is that you lost. You can write a eulogy for anything — not just funerals. Start it out by writing “Here lies all my [insert whatever you are grieving]” and keep writing. For example: “Here lies all my hopes and dreams for my spring semester … It had such promise … It will be missed.”

6) Talk to a therapist! Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services is open and can provide you with referrals. Also, most therapists, including myself, are offering telehealth sessions where you can meet on Zoom and other video-conferencing platforms. Get the mental health care you need in the safety of your home. 

This too shall pass, 5C students. Be kind to yourselves. Take care of your emotional health.

Marissa Esquibel is a guest writer and a licensed family and marriage therapist with a private practice in Claremont. She also offers telehealth sessions online to California residents. She often jokes, “I’m not like a regular therapist, I’m a cool therapist.” Find her on social media @therapywithmarissa.

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